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A picture holds a thousand words

Posted: May 28, 2011 - 3:31pm

I don’t know why I began watching reality shows about people getting tattoos, but I was quickly hooked.

I was struck by how deeply personal and meaningful most of the tattoos were. They represent sobriety, loss, hope, memory. They celebrate relationship, success, triumph, and love. They are a mirror for a person’s sorrows and joys. Some are playful, some are dense, some are lovely, some are jarring — but they all have a story.

I started asking people their stories. Most were surprised to be asked. Tattoos, while they have become more popular, are still not always seen as socially proper or acceptable. But after the moment of surprise, there is always a story.

Just last week, while I was waiting for my turn on the zipline, I asked our guide, who had more than one tattoo, which was his favorite. Turns out the one on his arm is a copy of a necklace his first captain gave him, as part of his initial tour on a fishing vessel in the Bering Sea.

“It’s not really safe to wear a necklace,” he said, “so I figured the way I could keep it close was here on my arm.”

There’s the story of the monarch butterfly.

The owner said, “I know it may not be the most unique tattoo, but the story that goes with it is my unique story, and that’s what matters.”

It’s the story of a family expressing its love for a beloved son, brother and uncle who died too soon. The women of the family — from niece to mom to grandma — are all getting their own butterfly tattoo to remember the free spirit, filled with fun and whimsy and life, who will always be a part of them.

There’s the story of a bee and a heart that represents an abiding friendship. The story of an orthopedic surgeon’s initials on a knee surgery site. Faith and music coming together in a clef signature incorporating a cross. The blood alcohol reading of .334. The blue shamrock. The stars. Piglet. Pegasus. A tattoo is a permanent story, a story so important that a person is willing to bear that story forever. Yet so often, those stories remain untold, ignored, dismissed.

Resurrection Lutheran Church is interested in those stories. We think your stories are important. We think your stories matter. Come and share the story of your tattoo at 7 p.m. June 5. Snacks, sodas, and Kleenex are on us.

• Bahleda is pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church, located at 740 W. 10th St.

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